He was only two years old the first time we went to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre. We walked up to the enclosure and there was a black bear who had been born in captivity. He was poking his head out from the tunnel. Then he moved about. My youngest son was captivated. I thought it to be just that up close first encounter with such a marvelous usually wild animal.
On the car ride home he began to refer to him as “my bear.” Then next day he asked “I go see my bear today?” We were leaving town and could not go see his bear again that day. I thought this might fade away. It did not. Instead he began to tell others about his bear. He even shared that this bear was his best friend. He talked about him near daily.
Next when we visited my parents we had to stop by again and see his bear. There he was again walking about, showing us his self. My son spoke to him as he would any other friend he had been missing. We left with the bear in his heart. On that trip we learned the bears name was Knut. This was satisfying to him, to have a name for his dearest friend.
When we moved to town we got a family pass so that would could visit Knut as regularly as this young boy needed to. On our third or fourth visit a man beside us exclaimed “I have never seen the bear out before.” Which surprised me. We had never missed seeing the bear. My son would stand near the enclosure and say “Hello Knut it’s me your friend.” And even if he did not fully emerge from his tunnel he would at the very least stick his nose out in to the air to my son’s delight.
I though as age pulled my son forward in his understanding of the world, that his connection might fall away. I had mistakenly thought it to be born from the imagination of childhood. We left the small city and moved far far away from this bear. This changed nothing.
There are close to ten bears in his collection and they are all named Knut. They travel with him, snuggle with him, they are his companions. Each time we visit the small city where Knut lives, we return to visit. My son’s enthusiasm has grown. If anything I would say the connection is stronger.
Our most recent visit was tender beyond words that could accurately capture it. There is a video that has always played in the interactive section at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre. We have often caught moments of it. This time we sat through the entire movie. His attention for details had caught up to the complexity of the film. He watched, in fascination, the rescues and recoveries, irritated by the noise others made behind him. Drinking in all the details passing before him. Waiting patiently for moments that would show his bear, his friend.
We stood by his enclosure. Knut did not emerge. There was a large group of children there. They were loud and my son figured perhaps stopping his friend from wanting to show himself. We went to leave. For the first time with out a viewing of the bear. I saw in him some conflict. So I suggested “shall we take on more look?” Without words he returned to Knut.
I was the one who saw the paw emerge and move in only what I could call a wave. My son was caught in a a sneeze and missed it. My word was not enough. He crumbled in to my arms in sobs of heart pain. He could not imagine leaving without a sign without a visual, without this connection renewed. We stood and we waited. He knew his brother was ready to leave. Coming back later wasn’t an option. He stood. He watched and waited. We went inside and inquired about feeding time and returning later in the day. It was true we could, with our receipt, come back at days end. This was an option but not enough. We returned one last time and held his stance. “Do you see that white bit mom?”
“I think that’s one of his claws. Oh, I saw him move. He’s moving mom. I saw him.”
Exhale. It was what he needed to feel okay with leaving once again.
This bear is a friend who has silently witnessed all the growing, changing, embracing my son has done throughout the larger portion of his life. He has been carried in his heart from place to place. He has been a grounding force when the world got bumpy. He has been something to hold on to. This reminds me of the strength of friendship and the importance of believing in your hearts song.
I often worry that with moving as we have my boys miss out on having a sense of stability. Yet, when I breath in their experience, I see as this bear shows, that stability comes not in location but in relationship.